Country Profile: Eritrea

Genocide Watch

July 31, 2012

In 1941 the British took control of Eritrea, which had been an Italian colony. In 1952, the British federated Eritrea with Ethiopia, without any vote of Eritreans. The country remained under the reign of Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, until it gained independence in 1993 after a 32 year war of independence.

Eritrea and Ethiopia, have maintained a tremulous relationship as their border dispute continues, despite a judgment by the International Court of Justice that granted the disputed area to Eritrea, but which Ethiopia refuses to accept.  Eritrea’s liberation left Ethiopia landlocked and conflicts along the border have continued to claim many lives. In 1998 violence broke out in the border town of Badme, a worthless triangle of desert, which left tens of thousands of soldiers dead on both sides. This war on the border did not end until 2000, when a peace agreement created a security zone between the two countries patrolled by UN peace-keepers, who have since been withdrawn from the peace-keeping operation.

The conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopea has perpetuated food shortages and the absence of skilled workers, and has crippled both countries’ economies.  Thousands of Eritreans trapped in Ethiopia have lost their citizenship and are not permitted to work.  Eritrea has retaliated by nationalizing much of the economy, and has fired Ethiopians from jobs that are controlled by the government and the ruling party.

In 2001 the Eritrean government under the leadership of President Isayas Afewerki began to severely violate the Eritrean people’s human rights. Afewerki maintains an authoritarian regime in which he has total control. Elections have not been held since 1991. The country permits the existence of only one political party, the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ).  According to Human Rights Watch the country does not allow the existence of NGO’s, or private unions. Public gatherings not approved by the government are banned.

According to Human Rights Watch, the government has committed serious human rights violations against minority ethnic and religious groups. In June 2010, Human Rights Watch reported the arrest of hundreds of Afar citizens by the government.  These prisoners were not formally charged and were indefinitely held with no notification to their families. Prisoners in Eritrea are held under barbaric conditions. Many die as a result of starvation, torture, ill-treatment, and denial of medical care.

There is no freedom of religion in Eritrea. The Eritrean government has enacted laws that prohibit the practice of any religions that are not affiliated with one of four “registered” religions: Eritrean Orthodox, Muslim, Catholic, or Lutheran. Special Security forces were formed for the purpose of arresting those found practicing “unregistered” religions, including evangelical Christians, Pentacostals, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Ethiopian Orthodox. In 2009, thirty women members of an “unregistered” Christian church were arrested. The government claimed that their “religion had nothing to do with” their arrests, and said “they were committing a crime.” Human Rights Watch reported that in 2010, hundreds of people were arrested and promised release only after renouncing their faith or paying with their lives.

The government has banned all forms of private news reporting, and has arrested scores of “unaccredited” journalists. In 2009, eleven journalists were arrested and placed in solitary confinement, and again in 2010, a former government journalist was arrested without explanation.

In 2009, sanctions against Eritrea were imposed by the UN due to Eritrean support for Islamist insurgents in Somalia and Ethiopia. Eritrea continues its aid to Islamist rebels in neighboring countries. Until the country ceases its border conflicts, adopts a democratic culture, and ends human rights violations against its people, UN sanctions will remain in effect.

According to Genocide Watch’s’ 8 stages of Genocide the situation in Eritrea is at stage 5, Polarization, with mounting tensions between the people and the oppressive government.

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